Q: Every time I attempt to restore my iPhone in iTunes, it asks me if I want to restore it to its factory settings. I want to restore to a previous backup. How do I retrieve an iTunes backup from Time Machine and actually get it to restore to the iPhone? I attempted to pull a previous backup held in Time Machine from the ~/Library/Application Support/Mobile Sync/Backup folder: e85e8c85ec0854b38aa596ab5ac0a91a4ec0d93f and overwrite the existing one, but even after doing this iTunes still asks me if I want to restore it to its factory settings. How do I tell iTunes to actually use my backup when restoring my iPhone?
A: You don’t need to take any special steps to restore your iPhone backup, but it seems you may be getting misled by the initial dialog box that appears when you attempt to restore your iPhone, which does indicate that iTunes will restore your iPhone back to its factory settings.
The key is that doing a full restore on an iPhone from a backup is actually a two-stage process: You start by restoring the device back to factory settings, which actually reloads the iPhone OS onto the device. After the restore completes and the iPhone restarts, iTunes will prompt you as to whether you want to restore your iPhone from a backup or set it up as a new device.
At this point, you would select your backup and restore it back to your iPhone. Note that there is no need to recover an iPhone backup from Time Machine unless you want to go back to an older backup since the last time that iTunes backed up your iPhone. The latest backup is always kept by iTunes, and iTunes will also make extra checkpoint backups when upgrading your iPhone firmware. You can view the backups that iTunes has stored by going into your iTunes Preferences and selecting the “Devices” tab.
Note that if you’re not concerned about wiping your iPhone completely and reloading the OS you can also quickly restore a backup directly from within iTunes by right-clicking on your iPhone in the Devices list and choosing “Restore” which will initiate the same restore procedure as illustrated above.
As a rule of thumb, if you’re restoring to troubleshoot a problem that you’re having with your iPhone then you’re far better to do the full restore, including the reload of the OS, as this will return you to the cleanest possible configuration. However, if you’re simply trying to revert to an older backup to recover lost information, then you can simply bypass the OS reload and just restore the backup directly.